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By Ashok N

Is it just me or are telemarketers no longer calling us in the middle of dinner? That may have been a rhetorical question but today’s reality is the large role telephone calls once played is now being handled through touchpoints like email and SMS. Although Contact Center platforms are still built as primarily voice-centric platforms, channels such as SMS, email and chat are rapidly growing in usage. While it is critically important to provide customers with the option of multiple channels to contact your business, customers increasingly expect that same multichannel communication when businesses reach out to them. Customers are not only demanding multi-channel flexibility, they also want you to know which channel is most appropriate for each contact. So, with the widespread usage of SMS and the convenience of email, is there even a place for voice in outbound communication? We’re going to explore a few trends and data points around voice and proactive communication that might have you asking yourself, is outbound calling dead?

Trends in voice

The Rise of Mobile Phones and the Death of Landlines

When it comes to voice and the telephone, the most prominent trend over the past decade has been the rise in mobile phone usage and the decline of land lines. It is interesting to note that Mobile phone use is now universal across age and income brackets. For some it is a convenience, for others, such as seniors or low income individuals, it is a budget issue.

Many households are moving to cell-phone only:

  • 66% of 25-29
  • 60% of 30-34
  • 48% of 35-44
  • 31% of 45-64
  • 14% over 65
  • 56% of people below the poverty line have only a mobile phone
  • 63% of US Adults use phones to go on-line rather than make phone calls
  • Carriers generate more revenue from data than voice calls.

Statistics-National Health Center for Statistics

With this mobility people can be called anywhere at any time; however, this does not mean people should be called anywhere at any time. When calling a landline you are not necessarily calling an individual, you are calling a home, a family, a residence. On the contrary, when calling a mobile phone you’re calling an individual but you’re not exactly sure what you’re calling in on, it could be a movie, a doctor appointment, a funeral, etc

Ignoring Unknown Numbers

In several online polls it has been shown that over 50% of those polled do not answer calls on their cell phone from unknown numbers. This may be due in part to the fact that with mobile phones we all have our contacts saved under names of our friends, family and other important contacts. Any unknown number may be assumed (rightly or wrongly) to be a nuisance call or a wrong number.

Voicemail use is Declining

The use of voicemail, like the phone call itself has changed significantly over the past decade. Rarely do younger generations such as millennials leave voicemails.  Today it is generally accepted among young people that a missed call notification is all that is needed to warrant a call back. Or rather than leave a voicemail, a missed call is followed by a short text message stating the purpose of the call. Often voicemails are left by those making cold calls, businesses or others perceived as nuisance callers. And it is not just young people who are no longer checking voicemail.  Vonage recently reported that there was a double digit drop year over year in voicemail retrievals. Similar trends are being seen within business elsewhere email, IM and text all trump voice in ease of use and immediacy.  Case in point, JP Morgan Chase began an initiative to eliminate voicemail for their workers on a voluntary basis, 65% of their workers took the offer.

Use of SMS

As with most trends, the use of SMS started with teenagers. Adults, primarily parents, began using SMS in an effort to communicate with their children and so the use of SMS spread. SMS is unobtrusive in nature. Many young people now view the phone as overly intrusive and prefer to Text or email prior to calling. Whereas, voicemails are increasingly ignored these days, 90% of SMS text messages are opened and read within 3 minutes.

When Should Voice Be Used?

So do people still use voice? Yes, voice is still used to obtain and convey important information that can’t efficiently be accomplished through alternative channels. Despite all of the self-service channels businesses offer, some problems can only be resolved by speaking with a person.

When looking at proactive communication in a customer service context, voice is an expensive channel to use when compared to SMS and email. Use cases will vary in different companies and verticals, but the voice channel is the best choice when ROI on a per call basis warrants its use or when important information needs to be delivered. Such scenarios may include high value client sales, collections, and important reminders and notifications. Additionally in the healthcare vertical, voice may be required to deliver certain messages such as test results where email and SMS don’t meet HIPAA compliance requirements.

The short answer to the question “is outbound calling dead?” is, no. Despite our desire to communicate via these alternate channels, voice when properly used can foster customer loyalty and customer satisfaction. The best way to view outbound voice is to picture outbound communication as a pie chart, visualizing the different channels (email, SMS, voice) as parts of that pie chart. As new modes of communication come in to play they will each occupy a portion of the pie, taking more share as they grow in use. With each channel having its strengths and weaknesses they will each play distinct roles in a proactive communication strategy.

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